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Belgium

Belgium - US Consular Information Sheet
October 03, 2008
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:
Belgium is a highly developed and stable democracy with a modern economy. Tourist facilities are widely available.
Read the Department of State Background N
tes on Belgium for additional information.
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: Belgium is a party to the Schengen agreement. As such, U.S. citizens may enter Belgium for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. The passport should be valid for at least three months beyond the period of stay. Sufficient funds and a return airline ticket are required. For further details about travel into and within Schengen countries, please see our fact sheet. For further information concerning entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Belgium at 3330 Garfield Street NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 333-6900; or one of the Belgian Consulates General in Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York.Visit the Belgian Embassy web site at http://www.diplobel.org/usa for the most current visa information.
Belgian law requires that everyone carry some form of official identification at all times, which must be displayed upon request to any Belgian police official. A U.S. passport suffices for these purposes.
See the section on Special Circumstances for information on new business visitor and employee registration requirements.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Belgium remains largely free of terrorist incidents. Belgian law enforcement and security officials, in close cooperation with neighboring countries, maintain a solid anti-terrorism effort and a peaceful environment for tourists and business. However, like other countries that are members of the Schengen Agreement on free cross-border movement, Belgium’s open borders with its European neighbors allow the possibility for terrorist groups to enter/exit the country with anonymity.
Prior police approval is required for public demonstrations in Belgium, and police oversight is routinely provided to ensure adequate security for participants and passers-by. Nonetheless, situations may develop that could pose a threat to public safety. U.S. citizens are advised to avoid areas where public demonstrations are taking place.
For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ web site at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts, as well as the Worldwide Caution, can be found.
Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.
CRIME: Belgium remains relatively free of violent crime, but low-level street crime is common. Visitors should always be watchful and aware of their surroundings, however, because muggings, purse snatchings, and pickpocketing occur frequently, particularly in the major cities. Transportation hubs like the Metro (subway) and train stations are also frequented by thieves who take advantage of disoriented travelers. In Brussels, pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of light luggage and laptops are common at the three major train stations -- the North Station (Noordstation or Gare du Nord), the Central Station (Centraal Station or Gare Central) and especially at the South Station (Zuidstation or Gare du Midi). The latter is a primary international train hub, and travelers are advised to pay very close attention to their personal belongings when in the station. Common ploys are to distract the victim by spraying shaving cream or another substance on his or her back or asking for directions while an accomplice steals the luggage. It is a good idea to remain in physical contact with hand luggage at all times, and not to place carry-on luggage on overhead racks in trains.
Another growing problem, especially in Brussels, is theft from vehicles, both moving and parked. Do not leave valuables in plain sight where a thief may spot them. Thieves will sometimes position themselves at stop lights to scan for valuables in stopped cars. If they see a purse or other valuable item they break the window and steal the item before the victim can even react. Expensive car stereos and GPS navigational devices left in plain sight are often stolen from parked cars. Always drive with windows up and doors locked.
Travelers to Brussels should be aware that small groups of young men sometimes prey on unwary tourists, usually at night and often in Metro stations. Items such as expensive mobile phones and MP3 players are often the target. Travelers should carry only a minimum amount of cash, credit cards, and personal identification. Wearing expensive jewelry and watches is discouraged.
INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed. See our information on Victims of Crime.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: Good medical facilities are widely available in Belgium. The large university hospitals can handle almost every medical problem. Hospitals in Brussels and Flemish-speaking Flanders will probably have English-speaking staff. Hospitals in French-speaking Wallonia may not have staff members who are fluent in English, however. The Embassy Consular Section maintains a list of English-speaking doctors, which can be found on the Embassy web site at http://brussels.usembassy.gov/medical_facilities.html.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site at http://www.who.int/en. Further health information for travelers is available at http://www.who.int/ith/en.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Belgium is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Belgian urban highways are generally well built and maintained with extensive lighting systems, but rain and fog often reduce visibility. Rural roads are less likely to be illuminated at night. Belgian rules for right-of-way differ from those in the U.S., and new drivers should thoroughly understand these rules before driving in Belgium. For instance, traffic coming from the right generally has priority at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts, even if coming from a smaller street. The maximum speed limit on Belgian highways is 120 kilometers (72 miles) per hour, but is not always posted except at Belgium’s borders and on roads leaving major airports. The maximum speed in urban areas is normally 50 km (30 miles) per hour. While Belgian authorities strictly enforce speed limits, many Belgians still drive significantly faster than the posted limit. Claims of ignorance may not prevent a significant fine for speeding, which can also lead to the vehicle’s being impounded if the driver is unable to pay the fine on the spot. Belgian police also conduct breath analysis checks for alcohol use, particularly at night and during major holidays.
Roadside assistance and information on road conditions are available in English from Touring Mobilis, tel: 0900 10280. Belgian police will also provide information on road conditions, tel: 02-642-6666. Emergency services are efficient and responsive. By phone within Belgium, for police emergencies dial 101 and for all other emergencies,112.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information. Visit the website of Belgium’s national tourist office at http://www.visitbelgium.com/.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the Government of Belgium’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Belgium’s air carrier operations. For more information, travelers may visit the FAA’s web site at http://www.faa.gov/safety/programs_initiatives/oversight/iasa
SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES: While most forms of monetary transactions are available (cash, credit cards), U.S. money orders cannot be negotiated in Belgium. Personal checks may only be cleared through a bank at which a person holds an account and clearance can take from two to four weeks. Banks and exchange facilities may refuse U.S. dollar denominations of $50 and $100 if they are not equipped with devices to identify counterfeit currency. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread in Belgium and accept most U.S. ATM cards to withdraw funds. Travelers seeking to purchase Euros are more likely to find a more favorable exchange rate at banks than at money exchange facilities located at tourist locations, train stations, and airports. Please see our Customs Information.
Non-EU citizens visiting Belgium and staying in a private residence are required by Belgian law to register with local Commune authorities within three days of their arrival. Any change in visa or resident status must also be requested through Commune authorities and must be completed prior to the expiration of the current status. Given the requirements to change status in Belgium, it is nearly impossible to do so within the 90 days permitted to remain in Belgium without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program.
BUSINESS VISITOR AND EMPLOYEE REGISTRATION REQUIREMENT: Since April 1, 2007 non-Belgian employers and self-employed persons or their employees who carry out short term assignments in Belgium must declare these activities in advance.
This mandatory "Limosa" declaration applies to: (1) Employees and apprentices, who come to Belgium to execute certain temporary work and who, because of the nature of their short term assignment, are not subject to the Belgian social security system; (2) Self-employed people and self-employed apprentices who come to work in Belgium temporarily, irrespective of whether they are subject to the Belgian social security system.
Some exceptions to this general obligation exist. Certain persons may be exempted, especially for short-term assignments. For more information about the Limosa declaration, visit http://www.limosa.be.
For more information about working in Belgium, please see http://www.employment.belgium.be/home.aspx.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Belgian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Belgium are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States. Please see our information on Criminal Penalties.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.

REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Belgium are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Belgium. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy in Brussels is located at 25 Boulevard du Regent. The telephone number from the U.S. is 011-32-2-508-2111. Within Belgium, the telephone number is 02-508-2111. The Embassy’s fax number is 02-511-2725. The Consular Section’s fax number is 02-513-0409. The American Citizen Services Unit of the Consular Section is open from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for American and Belgian holidays. Further information can be obtained at the Embassy’s web site at http://belgium.usembassy.gov/
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Belgium dated March 13, 2008, to update sections on Entry/Exit Requirements.

Travel News Headlines WORLD NEWS

Date: Thu, 25 Jul 2019 15:48:48 +0200

Brussels, July 25, 2019 (AFP) - Belgian meteorologists registered record high temperatures on Thursday as western Europe sweltered under a multi-day heatwave that has disrupted transport and triggered safety warnings.   David Dehenauw, chief forecaster at the Royal Meteorological Institute, said a high of 40.6 degrees Celsius (105 Fahrenheit) had been recorded on the Kleine-Brogel military base, in northeastern Belgium.

"New Belgian national record: 40.6 in Kleine Brogel now and it's not finished yet! Unbelievable!" Dehenauw said on Twitter.   The temperature in Belgium exceeded 40 degrees for the second day in a row after it reached 40.2 degrees in Liege, the previous record, on Wednesday.  Thursday's new record is likely to be temporary as temperatures continued to rise in the middle of the afternoon.

In Brussels, the country's reference station, it was a record 38.8 degrees at 15:00 (1300 GMT), compared to 36.8 degrees an hour earlier in Europe's unofficial capital.  Since the beginning of official temperature records in 1833, it has never been so hot.    The previous record of 36.6 was set on in June, 1947.
Date: Fri 17 May 2019
Source: [in French, trans. Corr.SB, edited]

An additional patient, the 19th, was admitted to the hospital in Flanders, [East Flanders province] suffering from legionellosis.

This case comes in addition to the 18 others who have been exposed to _Legionella_ bacteria in the Evergem area [East Flanders], right next to Ghent, and who developed legionnaires' disease, a lung disease that is not transmitted from human to human.

Of the total of 19 patients, 2 men died: one Monday night [20 May 2019] and the other [Wed 22 May 2019], in 2 different Ghent hospitals.

The exact source of _Legionella_ causing the [legionellosis] outbreak in the region has not yet been located. The bacterium normally contaminates people via inhalation of water vapor or micro-droplets, but many exposed individuals do not develop disease.
========================
[This news report above adds 3 cases since the last report posted by ProMED-mail (Legionellosis - Europe (01): Belgium (OV) http://promedmail.org/post/20190514.6468996) for a total now of 19 cases. At the time of the initial report, cooling towers in the vicinity of the Ghent Canal were suspected to be the source of this outbreak. The Ghent Canal separates the town of Evergem, where 7 cases occurred, from the town of Oostakker, where 2 cases occurred. The Ghent-Terneuzen Canal, links Ghent in Belgium to the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands, thereby providing Ghent with access to the sea (<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent-Terneuzen_Canal>).

A map showing the location of Evergem and this area can be found at
<https://goo.gl/maps/y9Z1tQzbKJa1NkSm7>.

The news report above fails to state where the new cases reside, if _Legionella_ genotypes of the clinical isolates match each other, which would indicate a common source outbreak, and the results of environmental testing for _Legionella_. We await the results of the ongoing investigation. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Belgium:
Date: Tue 14 May 2019, 8:24 AM
Source: Brussels Times [edited]

One person has died from [legionellosis] in Evergem, [a municipality] near Ghent, after health authorities declared an outbreak of the bacteria in the region, which accelerated at the weekend. The patient died in Ghent's University Hospital on [Mon 13 May 2019] evening, The Flanders Agency for Care and Health announced in a statement.

The agency has currently identified at least 16 cases after it was reported that 11 infected people had been admitted to the hospital late last week.

The most recently reported cases have prompted authorities to warn that the source of the infection, which has not yet been identified, may still be active. A total of 7 of the 16 cases originated in Evergem or in bordering towns, leading authorities to say that there are strong indications that the source of the infection is in Evergem's vicinity.

The _Legionella_ bacteria develop primarily in warm and stagnant water and can lead to Legionnaires' disease or Pontiac fever.

The Flanders Agency for Care and Health said in a statement that they are examining water samples from 17 companies in order to identify the source of contamination. A spokesperson for the agency said that [legionellosis] symptoms can take up to 17 days to appear, but that most people manifested symptoms within 10 days.
------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Dr. Juan Angel Ferrer Azcona
Area de Prevencion de Legionella
microSERVICES
Benidorm, Alicante, Spain
<ferrer@microservices.es>
Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2019 11:38:03 +0100
By Alex PIGMAN

Brussels, Feb 13, 2019 (AFP) - Belgium slowed to a standstill on Wednesday as a national strike closed airports, shuttered businesses and caused major disruption to railways.   The strike, called by three unions, severely disrupted the country's public transport, particularly in Brussels, where a meeting of NATO ministers was set to take place.  The strike affected post offices, schools, hospitals, waste collection, but also companies and shopping centres.

In the Dutch-speaking city of Ghent, two protestors were slightly injured when a vehicle forced a picket line, local police told AFP. The driver was arrested.    "The movement is well followed everywhere and in all sectors," said CSC union general secretary Marie-Helene Ska on Bel-RTL radio.   The national railway company expected half the trains nation-wide would be cancelled because of the movement, but high speed train traffic to London and Paris should be mostly spared.

The air traffic control agency, Skeyes, announced on Tuesday that it would not allow any flights to or from the country because it could not determine with certainty which employees would come to work.    No aircraft flying below 8,000 metres altitude would be allowed to fly over the country, the agency warned.   Skeyes was not able to say how many flights or how many passengers would be affected.    "Even if the terminal will remain open, we ask all passengers not to go to the airport," said Brussels Zaventem airport, the largest in Belgium, in a statement.   Charleroi airport, the second largest in Belgium and a local hub for low-cost giant Ryanair, had already announced its closure.    The German carrier TUI fly will operate its scheduled Belgian flights from the nearest French and Dutch airports.

Unions are calling for higher wages, benefits and pensions, and better end-of-career conditions. The movement is putting pressure on the right-of-centre government ahead of general elections in May.   Brussels, home to NATO, will be hosting a meeting of defence ministers that day, with officials from throughout the transatlantic military alliance converging on the city.   Dozens of supermarkets were closed, mainly in the French-speaking part of Belgium.   "Forty-four supermarkets are closed and we hope that the situation does not change during the day," said Carrefour spokesman Baptiste van Outryve to Belga news agency.   The last general strike in Belgium was in December 2014.
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2019 16:02:19 +0100

Brussels, Feb 8, 2019 (AFP) - Belgium's biggest carrier Brussels Airlines said it had cancelled all of its flights out of the Belgian capital on Wednesday due to a national strike.   Brussels Airlines is "eliminating its entire 222-flight schedule. The travel itineraries of more than 16,000 passengers are impacted," the Lufthansa subsidiary said in a statement on Friday.

Flights from German carrier TUI fly will also be diverted out of Belgium to airports in neighbouring France and the Netherlands, the company told the Belga news agency.   Unions warned De Morgen newspaper that all commercial flights may be forced out of Belgian airspace Wednesday if air traffic controllers joined the action.

Several Belgian unions are demanding salary hikes for all sectors of the economy, with the whole country expected to be at a standstill on Wednesday.   Brussels, home to NATO, will be hosting a defence ministers meeting that day, with officials from throughout the transatlantic military alliance converging on the city.
More ...

World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:21:07 +0200 (METDST)

Bangkok, Aug 20, 2019 (AFP) - At least 13 Chinese tourists were killed and dozens injured when their bus skidded off the road and plunged 30 metres into a ravine in Laos, a police officer said Tuesday.   The bus was carrying more than 40 Chinese nationals heading towards the tourist town of Luang Prabang when the accident occurred late on Monday.   "At this moment, 13 bodies have been recovered... while two are still missing," police officer Xaiyaphon Chitavong told AFP, blaming brake failure for the accident.   He added that 31 people were receiving medical treatment.    Chinese state media showed photos of rescuers wading through ankle-deep floodwaters.

Traffic accidents in Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar are common, with safety regulations often flouted and law enforcement low.    The monsoon season from June to October also drenches rural roads with heavy rains creating slippery conditions.   Tourism to communist-run Laos has grown in recent years, and visitors from China increased by 13 percent in the first half of 2019 compared to the year before, according to the state-backed Vientiane Times.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 20:57:15 +0200 (METDST)

Bukavu, DR Congo, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A child has died from Ebola in DR Congo's South Kivu, health authorities said Monday, the second person to succumb to the virus since the epidemic spread to the eastern province.   The announcement last week of the first confirmed cases in South Kivu revived concerns that the highly contagious disease could cross the porous borders of the central African country, where it has claimed more than 1,900 lives since August last year.   "A seven-year-old child died yesterday (Sunday) of Ebola" in South Kivu's Mwenga region, said Claude Bahizire, communication officer of South Kivu's provincial health division.

The first death in South Kivu was a woman in her twenties who evaded movement controls to travel from the North Kivu town of Beni, the epicentre of the outbreak, to South Kivu's capital Bukavu and then Mwenga.    She died on Wednesday, and her seven-month-old son has been diagnosed with the virus and is receiving treatment.   Bahizire said that "two other suspected cases, two women, have been detected and admitted to Bukavu's transit centre".   The two women "were in contact with the woman who died last week while she was staying in Bukavu on the way to Mwenga," he added.

The outbreak of the haemorrhagic virus began in North Kivu on August 1, 2018 and spread to Ituri province.   The health ministry also announced that "a new health zone had been assigned in North Kivu".   A confirmed case of Ebola has been recorded in North Kivu's Pinga region, in Walikale territory, a source said without providing further details.   According to the latest numbers published on Sunday, 1,934 people have since died, while 862 have been cured.

The latest outbreak is the second-deadliest on record after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014-2016.   Also on Monday, World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the nine countries that share a border with DR Congo to show solidarity to stop the spread of Ebola.   "We now have an Ebola vaccine that is more than 97 percent effective and treatments that are more than 90 per cent effective if used early enough," he said in Republic of Congo capital Brazzaville.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 19:48:07 +0200 (METDST)
By Alain JEAN-ROBERT

Paris, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - French construction workers wearing protective masks returned to the site of stricken Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday after a three-week pause due to the risk of lead contamination.   Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud was given a tour of the scorched monumet wearing a white protective suit while workers could again be seen surveying the structure which was left damaged and weakened in a massive fire in April.

Restoration of the cathedral has yet to begin with efforts focused entirely on securing the building. The culture ministry has warned it is still at risk of collapse.   Efforts to remove lead from the area around Notre-Dame began last week after alarm grew over the presence of the toxic metal.   Hundreds of tonnes of lead in the roof and steeple melted during the April 15 blaze that nearly destroyed the gothic masterpiece, with winds spreading the particles well beyond the church grounds.

Residents have accused the Paris authorities of underplaying the risk from the lead although the culture ministry insists safety is the top priority.   But prefect Michel Cadot, the government's top official for the Paris region, approved the resumption of the works after visiting the site.   "I saw that the different recommendations of the labour inspectors had been implemented," he said, adding the decontamination work would help keep contractors safe.   Securing the structure is required before the restoration work can start.    The culture ministry said that stones had fallen from the nave vault during a heatwave in July.   "It is only the urgency linked to the persistent risk of a collapse that justifies the rhythm of work undertaken" since the fire, it said in a statement Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for the restoration to be finished. But the ministry said the work would not even begin until next year.   Paris prosecutors said in June that a poorly stubbed-out cigarette or an electrical fault could have started the fire and opened an investigation into criminal negligence, without targeting any individual.

French investigative news site Mediapart published a report this week accusing the ministry of repeatedly ignoring warnings by labour inspectors about the dangers posed by the lead until work was finally suspended on July 25.   Critics have accused the city of failing to notify the public about the test results, while an environmental group has filed a lawsuit alleging that officials failed to sufficiently contain the contamination.   The ministry rejected Mediapart's allegations it had failed to pay attention to the risks encountered by workers on the site.
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 13:26:06 +0200 (METDST)

Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - Scores of people including children were wounded Monday after a series of explosions shook the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, as the country's independence day was marred by bloodshed.

As many as 10 blasts were reported in and around the city in Nangarhar province, authorities said, and casualty numbers rose as the day wore on.   "The explosions were caused by IEDs in different parts of the city and as groups of people were celebrating independence day," the Nangarhar governor's spokesman Attaullah Khogyani said, referring to improvised explosive devices.   Jalalabad is the scene of frequent bomb attacks, and the surrounding terrain is home to both Taliban fighters and the Islamic State group's local affiliate.

At least 52 people were wounded, Khogyani said. Zaher Adel, a spokesman for a local hospital, said 66 wounded people had been brought in. An AFP correspondent saw children among the victims.   This year's August 19 celebrations mark 100 years of Afghan independence from British influence.   The day was supposed to be one of national pride and unity, but was overshadowed by an IS suicide attack Saturday on a crowded Kabul wedding hall that killed at least 63 people.

In Kabul, locals took to the streets to wave the black-red-and-green Afghan flag, but several public events to commemorate the date were scrapped as Kabul mourns and due to fears of a fresh attack.    "We postponed the celebrations to honour the victims, but we will definitely take revenge for our people," Afghan President Ahraf Ghani said.   "We will avenge the blood of our people, every drop of it."

Mayhem from Afghanistan's war continues to wreak havoc on Afghans every day, even though the US and the Taliban are in final negotiations for a deal that would see US troops begin to quit Afghanistan and could potentially lead to a reduction in violence.
Date: Wed 14 Aug 2019
Source: Universitat Hohenheim [in German, trans. Britta Lassmann, edited]

The University of Hohenheim and the Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology [IMB] have detected spotted fever in a hyalomma tick, the 1st time such a tick is suspected to have caused disease in a human in Germany.

This tick feeds on humans and can transmit a form of spotted fever in Germany. What were still unanswered questions about the tropical giant tick hyalomma is now certainty. At the beginning of August [2019], it was suspected that for the 1st time, a human in Germany had contracted a disease with the typical symptoms of rickettsiosis from the bite of a hyalomma tick. Experts from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and the IMB in Munich were able to detect the pathogen _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ in the tick. The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany increased significantly in 2019 compared to the previous year [2018]. In nearly half of the hyalomma ticks, _R. aeschlimannii_ can be detected. The tick researchers continue to ask the population to send them suspicious ticks.

It was probably no coincidence that this 1st case was in a horse owner. Tropical ticks of the genus _Hyalomma_ feed on large mammals. For several years, these ticks have been on the rise in Germany. Now tick researchers report the 1st suspected case of spotted fever transmitted in Germany. "Not only do we now know for sure that the hyalomma tick is also targeting humans," says Prof Dr Med Ute Mackenstedt, a parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim, "but also that there is the urgent suspicion that the transmission of spotted fever by these ticks is actually possible here in Germany."

The case: At the end of July [2019], the horse owner from near Siegen was bitten by a hyalomma tick. He sent the tick to the tick researcher in Hohenheim. He then presented to the hospital only a few days later with severe symptoms. Spotted fever caused by the bacterium _R. aeschlimannii_ was suspected. The tick was sent by courier service to the IMB in Munich, where the pathogen was detected in the tick. Thereafter, the patient received targeted antibiotic therapy, and his symptoms rapidly improved.

"We are talking about a suspected case, because direct detection of the pathogen from the patient was not possible," explains PD Dr Med Gerhard Dobler, medical doctor at the IMB. "The treatment of the patient came 1st. But the preceding tick bite, the typical symptoms
and, above all, the proof of the pathogen in the tick suggest that the case was spotted fever. The fact that the patient responded to targeted antibiotic therapy further supports this."

_R. aeschlimannii_ causes a feverish infection with headache and muscle pain, extreme joint pain, and a burning sensation. Typical for the disease, however, is the rash that gave the disease its name. This classic sign shows mainly on the extremities. The incubation period is about one week.

"If spotted fever is suspected after a hyalomma bite, a swab should be taken from the bite site and sent for examination," advises PD Dobler. "If there are questions, you are welcome to contact us. Ideally, we would also like to examine the tick."

About half of the hyalomma ticks, the researchers say, are infected with rickettsia. Transmission takes place exclusively via tick bite. "The number of hyalomma ticks in Germany is significantly higher this year [2019] than in the previous year [2018]," reports Prof Dr Med Mackenstedt, referencing the publication in which the situation was presented in 2018. The Hohenheim parasitologist not only cooperates closely with the IMB in Munich, but also with the working group of Prof Dr Med Christina Strube at the Veterinary University (TiHo) Hannover. "Together they already have found 50 such ticks in Germany in 2019. Last year [2018] there were a total of 35." Last year, these ticks had survived the winter in Germany for the 1st time.

"Rickettsia are the only pathogens that we have been able to detect so far," explains PD Dr. Dobler. "We have not found the virus that causes the dangerous Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever, nor the pathogens _Theileria equi_ and _Babesia caballi_, both of which can be transmitted from ticks to horses."

The research team continues to ask the population for support to further explore the spread and potential dangers. In case of a tick bite, it's best to remove the tick with a tick remover, TickCard, or tweezers. Then send the animal in a small, tightly closed container to:
University of Hohenheim
Prof. Dr. Ute Mackenstedt
Department of Parasitology
Emil-Wolff-Strasse 34
70599 Stuttgart

Background: Tick genus _Hyalomma_
_Hyalomma marginatum_ and _Hyalomma rufipes_ are native to the dry and semi-arid areas of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Until recently, they did not occur in central and northern Europe. Their striped legs are striking, and they are much larger than the native ixodes ticks.

The adult ticks feed on large animals. They are active hunters and move quickly towards their host. They cover a distance of up to 100 m [328 ft]. Humans can serve as hosts. In contrast, tick larvae and nymphs mainly infest birds and small mammals and can stay up to 28 days with their hosts. Migratory birds can introduce larvae and nymphs to Germany.

In Eurasia, both _Hyalomma_ species are considered transmitters of the Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus and the Arabic hemorrhagic fever virus (Alkhumra virus). They also transmit the bacterium _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_, which causes a form of spotted fever.

Reference:
Chitimia-Dobler L, et al. Imported _Hyalomma_ ticks in Germany in 2018. Parasites & Vectors. 2019; 12 (134).

More information:
Picture and video material [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks in Germany: University of Hohenheim asks to send conspicuous tick finds [in German]
Press release: Tropical ticks: New immigrant species winters in Germany for the 1st time [in German]
-----------------------------------
communicated by:
Roland Hubner
Superior Health Council
Brussels
Belgium
====================
[Given that the ticks were found last year (2018) and that they overwintered and were found again this year (2019), it is likely that this genus of tick is becoming established in Germany. Although the species of _Hyalomma_ that infected the man with _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ was not determined, there is a clear association of this rickettsia with the 2 species of _Hyalomma_ that were tested. The published report cited above states, "35 ticks with an unusual appearance or behaviour were reported to us during summer-autumn 2018. For 17 of them, the description or photos implied that they belong to the hard tick genus _Hyalomma_. The remaining 18 ticks were sent to us and were identified as adult _Hyalomma marginatum_ (10 specimens) or adult _Hyalomma rufipes_ (8 specimens). All ticks tested negative for CCHF virus, _Coxiella burnetii_, _Coxiella_-like organisms, _Babesia_ spp. and _Theileria_ spp. The screening for rickettsiae gave positive results in 9 specimens. The _Rickettsia_ species in all cases was identified as _R. aeschlimannii_." Given that these ticks can be transported by birds migrating from Africa, continued surveillance in Germany for the rickettsia and the other pathogens that were not found currently is prudent. - ProMED Mod.TY]

The first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection was identified in a patient who had fever, rash, and an eschar similar to _R. conori_ infection (Mediaterrian spotted fever) after travel in Morocco (1). _R. aeschlimannii_ infections in humans have been previously confirmed in South Africa, in Algeria, and in Tunisia (2). To our knowledge, the first human case of _R. aeschlimannii_ infection reported in Europe occurred in Greece and was reported in 2013 (3).

1. Raoult D, Fournier PE, Abboud P, Caron F. First documented human Rickettsia aeschlimannii infection. Emerg Infect Dis. 2002; 8: 748-9. doi: 10.3201/eid0807.010480
2. Demoncheaux JP, Socolovschi C, Davoust B, Haddad S, Raoult D, Parola P. First detection of _Rickettsia aeschlimanii_ in _Hyalomma dromedarii_ ticks in Tunisia. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2012; 3: 398-402.
3. Germanakis A, Chochlakis D, Angelakis E, Tselentis Y, Psaroulaki A. _Rickettsia aeschlimannii_ infection in a man, Greece. Emerg Infect Dis. 2013; 19: 1176-7.  - ProMED Mod. LL]

[HealthMap/ProMED-mail map of Germany:
Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:48 PM
Source: Kazakh Telegraph Agency [edited]

A total of 4 anthrax cases have been confirmed in the Akmola region, reports the health care department. "Up to [now] 5 [suspected cases of] anthrax have been recorded; lab tests have confirmed 4. The cause of contamination was cow butchering without a veterinary certificate in a private yard," said the interlocutor.

"Epidemiological situation in the Akmola region and Nur-Sultan is stable," said the department. "The situation is being constantly monitored by the committee," said Ludmila Burabekova, chairfigure of the committee of quality control and goods safety. "Anti-epidemic and anti-epizootic arrangements have been organized in the area," she added.
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Date: Wed 19 Aug 2019, 12:04 PM GMT
Source: Radio Free Europe [edited]

A village near the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, is under quarantine after lab tests confirmed anthrax infections in several people.

The Health Ministry said on [19 Aug 2019] that 5 residents of the village of Olginka, 100 km [about 62 mi] east of Nur-Sultan, have been hospitalized in recent days with anthrax symptoms, 4 of whom tested positive for _Bacillus anthracis_ -- the bacterium that causes the infectious disease. According to the statement, the situation in the village in the Aqmola region is under the control of the authorities and all necessary measures are being taken to prevent the possible spread of the disease.

In 2016, in nearby Qaraghandy Oblast, 2 people died as a result of anthrax infections.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), domestic and wild animals -- such as cattle, sheep, goats, antelope, and deer -- can become infected by inhaling or ingesting spores in contaminated soil, plants, or water. CDC says all types of anthrax infections can cause death if they are not treated with antibiotics.
========================
[Olginka is in north-central Kazajhstan; see:

There is a measure of rural poverty in northern half of Kazakhstan, with the result that sick and moribund animals get butchered and eaten. Fortunately, as this village is within 100 Km [about 62 mi] of the Kazakh capital the affected have had the advantage of hospital care and proper laboratory confirmation. The coincident 5th person may have just shown a fever when the medical authorities were looking for clinical cases or it may be a false negative.

Folk have a habit of self-treating with antibiotics and this would have reduced the number of circulating vegetative cells available to testing. My friend Benyamin Cherkasskyi, the Soviet anthrax expert, used to tell me that only some 30%-40% of cutaneous cases would test positive. You have to know to insert your needle in under the lesion to draw out the fluid there which will contain cells, blood, and toxins. - ProMED Mod.MHJ]

[HealthMap/ProMED map available at:
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2019 03:45:54 +0200 (METDST)

Lomo del Pino, Spain, Aug 19, 2019 (AFP) - A raging wildfire on the Spanish holiday island of Gran Canaria forced the evacuation of some 5,000 people, authorities said Sunday, warning it could take days for the blaze to be brought under control.   The fire, which has spread to the mountainous Cruz de Tejeda region popular with tourists for its breathtaking views, is "extremely fierce" and "unstable", said Canary Islands president Angel Victor Torres in a statement.   No fatalities have been reported.

More than 600 firefighters and 14 aircraft battled to contain the flames, hampered by strong winds and high temperatures.   With the temperature set to rise Monday, authorities estimate it could take days before the blaze is brought under control.   "The next few hours will be very important because the weather forecast for the night is not good," Torres said.   The fire broke out days after another wildfire in the same region forced the evacuation of hundreds.

Gran Canaria is the second most populous of the Canary Islands in the Atlantic off the northwest coast of Africa.   The Canary Islands received 13.7 million foreign visitors last year, over half of them from Britain and Germany.   Spain is frequently plagued by huge forest fires because of its arid summer climate.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 23:01:00 +0200 (METDST)

Lisbon, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Portuguese fuel tanker drivers whose strike has caused fuel shortages at the summer holiday season on Sunday ended their industrial action.   Drivers have been staging a strike since Monday to demand further wage increases in 2021 and 2022, prompting the government to declare an energy crisis.   "Since all the conditions are now in place to negotiate, we decided to end the strike," Pedro Pardal Henriques, spokesman for the National Union of Dangerous Goods Carriers (SNMMP), told reporters.

A meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, the union President Francisco Sao Bento said, adding that the union did not "rule out new strikes being called if Antram (the employers association) adopts an uncompromising attitude".   Police had launched an operation to escort fuel tankers with extra supplies and Portugal also mobilised about 500 members of the security forces to replace the strikers and drive the trucks.   Despite the shortages, Energy Minister Joao Pedro Matos Fernandes said about two-thirds of the country's 3,000 or so petrol stations had not run dry.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 11:47:26 +0200 (METDST)
By By Emal Haidary and Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Kabul, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Joy and celebration turned into horror and carnage when a suicide bomber targeted a packed Afghan wedding hall, killing at least 63 people in the deadliest attack to rock Kabul in months, officials and witnesses said Sunday.   The massive blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban finalise a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan and hopefully build a roadmap to a ceasefire.   The groom recalled greeting smiling guests in the afternoon, before seeing their bodies being carried out hours later.

The attack "changed my happiness to sorrow", the young man, who gave his name as Mirwais, told local TV station Tolo News.   "My family, my bride are in shock, they cannot even speak. My bride keeps fainting," he said.   "I lost my brother, I lost my friends, I lost my relatives. I will never see happiness in my life again."   Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 63 people had been killed and 182 injured.   "Among the wounded are women and children," Rahimi said. Earlier he stated a suicide bomber carried out the attack.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating for hours inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.   "The wedding guests were dancing and celebrating the party when the blast happened," recounted Munir Ahmad, 23, who was seriously injured and whose cousin was among the dead.   "Following the explosion, there was total chaos. Everyone was screaming and crying for their loved ones," he told AFP from his bed in a local hospital, where he is being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Images from inside the hall showed blood-stained bodies on the ground along with pieces of flesh and torn clothes, hats, sandals and bottles of mineral water. The huge blast ripped parts of the ceiling off.   The wedding was believed to be a Shia gathering. Shia Muslims are frequently targeted in Sunni-majority Afghanistan, particularly by the so-called Islamic State group, which is also active in Kabul but did not immediately issue any claim of responsibility.

Wedding guest Hameed Quresh told AFP the young couple were saying their vows when the bomb went off.    "We fainted following the blast, and we don't know who brought us to the hospital," sobbed Quresh, who lost one brother and was himself wounded.   Another guest told Tolo that some 1,200 people had been invited. With low security, weddings are seen as easy targets.   The attack sent a wave of grief through a city grimly accustomed to atrocities. President Ashraf Ghani called it "barbaric", while Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah described it as a "crime against humanity".

- Withdrawal deal expected -
The attack underscores both the inadequacy of Afghanistan's security forces and the scale of the problem they face. While the police and army claim they prevent most bombings from ever happening, the fact remains that insurgents pull off horrific attacks with chilling regularity.   On July 28, at least 20 people were killed when attackers targeted Ghani's running mate Amrullah Saleh as he campaigned in presidential elections.    The incident showed how even amid tight security and known threats, insurgents can conduct brazen attacks.   The issue also goes to the heart of a prospective deal between the US and the Taliban that would see Washington begin to withdraw its approximately 14,000 soldiers from Afghanistan.

The deal relies on the Taliban providing guarantees they will stop jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda and IS from using Afghanistan as a safe haven. Saturday's attack suggests any such promise would be tough to keep.   The "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists," Ghani said.   Few believe such a deal will bring quick peace.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban could return, eroding hard-won rights for women in particular and leading to a spiralling civil war.   Meanwhile, in the northern province of Balkh, 11 members of the same family were killed when their car hit a roadside bomb, officials said. The provincial governor blamed the Taliban for planting the device.
Date: Sun, 18 Aug 2019 05:28:47 +0200 (METDST)
By Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS

Paris, Aug 18, 2019 (AFP) - Seafood lovers who prize the mussel for its earthy taste and succulent flesh may be unaware of its growing potential in the fight against water pollution.   The mussel is the hoover of the sea, taking in phytoplankton for nourishment along with microplastics, pesticides and other pollutants -- which makes it an excellent gauge.

One day, it may also be pressed into service to cleanse water.   "It's a super-filter in the marine world, filtering up to 25 litres of water a day," says marine biologist Leila Meistertzheim.   "It's a real model of bioaccumulation of pollutants generally speaking."   As they pump and filter the water through their gills in order to feed and breathe, mussels store almost everything else that passes through -- which is why strict health rules apply for those destined for human consumption.

Like canaries in a coal mine, mussels have long been used as "bio-indicators" of the health of the seas, lakes and rivers they inhabit.   Little-known pollutants can turn up to join the usual suspects, with increasing attention paid to microplastics containing bisphenol A and phthalates, both thought to be endocrine disruptors.

Meistertzheim heads a study for France's Tara Ocean Foundation using mussels to gauge the health of the estuaries of the Thames, Elba and Seine rivers.   The mussels, placed in fish traps, are submerged in the waters for a month before researchers dissect them to determine what chemical substances lurk in their tissues.   The idea of deploying mussels across the oceans to absorb ubiquitous microplastics is just a dream for now, but for other pollutants, the bivalves are already at work.   "In some places, mussels are used, as well as oysters, to cleanse the sea of pesticides, for example," Meistertzheim notes.

- E. coli busters -
Richard Luthy, an environmental engineer from California's Stanford University, says that, in most cases, mussels harvested from contaminated waters should not be eaten.   But if the contaminant is E. coli, mussels can be thanked for the "removal and inactivation" of the faecal material, he says, calling the service a "public health benefit".   The mussels are edible because they "excrete the bacteria as faeces or mucus," he says.   Mussels living in waterways affected by eutrophication -- often marked by abundant algae -- are also fit for human consumption, researchers say.   The phenomenon is often the result of waste dumped into the waterway containing phosphates and nitrites, such as detergents, fertilisers and sewage.   The nutrients in these substances encourage the proliferation of algae, which in turn starves the water of oxygen, upsetting the ecosystem.

Mussels "recycle" these nutrients by feeding on the algae, says Eve Galimany, a researcher of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Milford Laboratory who has experimented with mussels in the Bronx River in New York.   The recycling principle is already at work in a pilot project titled Baltic Blue Growth in Sweden, Denmark and the Baltic countries which grows mussels to be fed to animals such as poultry, fish and pigs.   "Eutrophication... is the biggest problem of the Baltic Sea, the most urgent one," says project head Lena Tasse. Mussels "could be part of a solution".   Why feed them to animals if they are safe for humans? Because Baltic mussels are too small to be of interest to seafood lovers, says Tasse, adding: "Swedes like big mussels."

Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the effects of microplastics on human health.   A recent report by WWF said that humans ingest an average of five grammes of microplastics a week -- about the weight of a credit card.   A 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Pollution, based on samples from British coastlines and supermarkets, estimated that every 100 grammes (3.5 ounces) of mussels contained 70 tiny pieces of plastic.   Should we be worried? Meistertzheim thinks not.   "I eat them," she says. "A dish of mussels is not necessarily worse than organic hamburger meat wrapped in plastic."